Fort Bend County parks hit hard by drought

18 08 2011

Several birds sit in mud where water has receded from a small body of water in Cullinan Park.

The drought continues in Fort Bend County.  Water systems across the County are beginning to implement restrictions on water usage.  Schools are beginning to implement response measures because of the extreme heat.  In my last entry, I shared information about the problems public works crews are facing as they attempt to maintain asphalt roads as temperatures soar about 100 degrees day after day. Affects are being felt everywhere— agriculture, water systems, ranching, grass fires, roads, and park systems.  This latter item is discussed below.

Below, please find an article written by Cory Stottlemyer, and published by on August 16, 2011. 

According to an Associated Press article from August 14, Texas is currently experiencing the most severe one-year drought on record, and July was the warmest month ever recorded for the state.

This extreme lack of rainfall has caused the death of many flora and fauna at county parks and has even driven down public turnout. Various parks and recreation departments in the county are struggling to find ways to combat the extreme heat yet conserve water.

Dead brown grass is located in the Four Corner’s Recreation Center’s baseball field.












“Our crews are not able to maintain the parks properly because the grass is not growing; lots of stuff are dying,” Leticia Arriaga, Fort Bend County’s Parks and Recreation Coordinator, said. “We have some fish dying in one of our parks. We don’t see any of the animals that we used to see.”

While the summer has killed off some of the mosquitoes that typically plague this area, the county’s parks department has had to be careful watering many areas because they are run on well systems. According to Arreja, this has made landscaping nearly impossible.

“We can’t keep up with the watering of our greenery. A lake in one of our parks has lost about three feet of water. This has been the worst summer for us. A lot of people make reservations for our parks, and a lot of them don’t show up because it’s just too hot,” Arriaga said.

Sugar Land Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director Joe Chesser said that the city’s athletic fields have been the most difficult to upkeep. Frequent use by sports leagues combined with the dry weather has created large cracks in the ground in parks with mostly clay soil. Landscaping these fields has become difficult for the department to do while also adhering to the city’s voluntary water schedule.

“Even with our sprinkler systems, we rely on mother nature to give us some water, and most summers we’ll at least get those late afternoon showers fairly regularly,” Chesser said. “Even though we’re a city department, we don’t have unlimited access to the water we have. Internally, we budget and pay for a water bill just like anyone else would. We basically used up the allotment in our budget for water in June.”

The city’s voluntary water schedule asks citizens to water no more than twice a week, something the parks department has tried to do. Since the water budget has been depleted, Chesser said cuts have been made in other areas. Frequent waterline breaks throughout the city caused by everything from shifting soil to lawn mowers damaging above-ground sprinklers have made conserving water even more difficult.

Grass at the Four Corner’s Recreation Center’s baseball field is mostly worn away and dead from this summer’s heat.

“We’ve kind of experienced more waterline and irrigation system breaks, and those breaks show up pretty quick when areas aren’t getting water. We’ve got our staff real busy just trying to keep up with the sprinkler systems,” Chesser said. “I wouldn’t say [the sports fields] are in good condition, but they’re in playable condition. They’re not to the level we strive to have them be in, but we’re keeping them green and most of our participants will understand the reason why the fields aren’t as lush as they usually are.”


Drought plays havoc with Fort Bend Roads

18 08 2011

The extreme heat and the lack of rain is beginning to take its toll on area roadways.  B.J. Pollock, correspondent with the Houston Chronicle, wrote an article that was published yesterday detailing the problems caused by the drought conditions; and as you will not in reading her article below, the problems will probably get worse before they get better.  As reported by Ms. Pollock:

The extended drought conditions in Texas have caused problems with some rural roads in Fort Bend County as the shifting dry ground splits open the pavement.

In addition, the drought has led to an extension of a county burn ban that has been in effect since April.

“Dry weather is the worst for roads; it takes a toll,” said County Road Commissioner Marc Grant. “The bad part is, when we do start getting rain, it’ll go down in the cracks to the subgrade and mess it up.”

Grant said the subgrade lies beneath the lime that is under the top layer of pavement, and that many long cracks are several feet deep.

Deterioration caused by moisture starts at the subgrade level and progresses to the surface. While reinforcement bars keep concrete roads from fracturing a little less than asphalt roads, it’s all susceptible to the drought.

“There’s just about no way to keep the roads from cracking anymore,” Grant said. “We’re going out every day, sealing cracks. You can’t seal all the cracks, but you try to seal as many as you possibly can.”

Crews are concentrating on the more well-traveled roads, and Grant said they’ve been repairing fissures for months. Of course, that takes money.

“The longer the drought, the more the monetary impact,” he said. “It’s financially a huge burden, and we won’t know the financial impact until after the rains come through.”

In some places, the sides of the roads appear to falling off. In those cases, said Grant, “When it rains, it’ll fall even more. Then we’ll come back and build it back up.”

He said the root systems of grass that’s popping up in many of the cracks actually helps hold the roads together.

“We’re always looking for new ways to seal cracks; ways that will help the integrity of our roadways,” he said. “I tell everybody, ‘If you can find a way to seal crack in this region, you’re going to make lots of money.'”

County commissioners enacted a burn ban April 26 and extended it at their July 12 meeting.

County Fire Marshal Vance Cooper said burn bans are only good for 90 days and then must be voted on again. He also said it would take about 10 inches of rain across the county to lift the ban.

Cooper said the Keetch-Byrum Drought Index, which is a scale for estimating the dryness of soil, shows Fort Bend County to be at 705, with any number higher than 500 indicating need for a burn ban. The scale runs from zero to 800. The higher the number, the more dry it is.

“In talking with the Forest Service, if we got an inch of rain, we’d be good for about 24 hours and then we’d basically be back to where we are now,” he said. “This drought did not happen overnight. It took several years to get where we are and it’ll take several years to get out.